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Wearable Rash: A Derm Explains The Major Causes, Prevention Tips & Remedies

Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director By Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director
Alexandra Engler is the Beauty Director. Previously she worked at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com.
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Wearables, trackers, smartwatches, sleep monitors—they've all been long-standing favorites of wellness fans everywhere. And by all accounts, the trend is only getting bigger. And well, more micro, too. In one of our wellness trends for 2021, we noted   just how much the market was expanding, and with said expansion, much of growth was focused on getting granular. For example, the new Fitbit Sense tracks skin temperature variation, Garmin's watches now measure pulse oximetry, the Apple Watch Series 6 has a blood oxygen sensor, Nutrisense and Levels launched continuous glucose monitors (CGM), and the new Amazon Halo wearable even determines body composition—just to name a few.

And with all these new options available, I'm sure you're tempted to try a few out, no? Well, one sneaky and surprising concern some people have reported running into when testing out new trackers is a rash. Annoying, yes—but is it something of concern? Well, we asked a derm about it—and got tips on how to keep the rash at bay.

Why some people get wearable rashes & what to do. 

Wearable rashes come down to two major culprits—chafing and a metal allergy. The former is likely the most common, and what we wager you might be experiencing, but the later may also be the issue if you're known to get similar irritations from jewelry (like earrings or rings). 

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If yours is caused by chafing. 

"Friction, particularly on damp skin, can cause chafing. Chafing is the annoying and often painful result of skin rubbing against skin or clothing," says board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, M.D., noting that chafing most often occurs on the body where tight clothes and materials meet sweat, like the bra, underarms." And, yes, your wearable too. 

"If chafing has occurred, gently clean the area with cool water and dry it thoroughly. Apply a soothing emollient to protect the skin," she says. We recommend Pipette's Baby Balm. "If the area is very painful or swollen, see your dermatologist."

And then going forward—to avoid the chafing altogether—there are some steps you can take.  

"In order to prevent skin chafing, you must decrease the amount of friction to your skin," says King. "To do this: Stay dry, as wet skin can make chafing worse. Lubricate with anti-chafing products to the area. Finally, make sure the trackable is properly fitting." 

Fitbit, for example, recommends taking the device off for an hour after extended wear, along with ensuring it's clean and not too tight. You could also occasionally give your watch-dominant wrist a break by switching to the other side.

If yours is a metal allergy. 

A less common culprit but not one to be overlooked is an allergy. "If someone has an allergy to nickel, then metals in these devices that contain nickel can cause allergic contact dermatitis," says King. "Sweating in the area can make this worse by increasing the distribution of the allergen." In fact, some research has been conducted on allergens in wearables and trackers, finding that they may indeed cause contact dermatitis in some users. 

If this is happening to you, you'll likely need to stop wearing the device. That doesn't mean you need to swear off devices altogether; however, it will take a few additional precautionary steps—such as narrowing down your exact allergy (consider getting tested by your health care practitioner) and then finding a wearable device that doesn't contain said allergen. 

The takeaway.

There are plenty of reasons to wear a trackable—glucose, better sleep, movement, the list goes on—so it's worth figuring out how to avoid and treat any annoying skin irritation that comes as the result of it. Luckily, like with most things in skin care and well-being, it just takes a bit of extra care and attention to the area. 

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